The Knesset Public Petitions Committee headed by MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) convened Wednesday to evaluate preparations for the big pilgrimage to Mt. Meron next week. At a March committee meeting on the same topic, concerns were raised about the lack of cooperation among the organizers, and the lack of funds, lights, roads, parking places, and benches, to name but a few problems. Last night the committee convened again to receive answers and summarize the preparations for Lag B’Omer in Meron. The CEO of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the CEO of the National Center for the development of holy places, police officials, representatives of the Ministry of Transport and Hatzalah volunteers attended.
Committee chairman Eichler opened the meeting, saying, “This year the hearings were extremely optimistic. Unlike previous years, when everyone complained and threw the responsibility on the shoulders of others, this year we received written responses and constant updates of the performance in the field. Concerns were raised at the previous hearing. This time there is a feeling of freshness and acceptance of responsibility and cooperation that the preparations have been better organized, and I hope not to be proven wrong.”
Oded Plus, CEO of the Ministry of Religious Affairs said, “In past years the holy places center could not start work because they had debts of millions of shekels. We made sure to cover all the debts from previous years. A team led by myself and involving all the relevant factors formulated a budget of 25 million shekel ($6.46 million). I’ve been told that at this stage of the game preparations have never been up to where they are today.”
“We put up light poles on Route 89 and Route 866 and many more roads that were not properly lighted. We expanded the parking lots significantly,” Plus continued. “We added benches, drinking facilities and rescue centers in all the parking lots. All the tasks were carried out and we were on schedule. I’m optimistic. But we have to be careful. Certainly there may be problems. We have tried to anticipate them and prevent them. We have learned a lot of lessons from the previous years.”
Rabbi Yosef Schwinger, CEO of the National Center for the development of the holy places said, “This is the first year that we had a set budget two months before the event. In the past, we emphasized the people as a whole, this year we put an emphasis on the individual and the family. There will be dozens of drinking stations manned by multilingual stewards, dozens of shaded areas, hundreds of toilets connected to a sewer, and water infrastructure. We have established a special area for women to drink and rest. There are 12 diaper changing and nursing rooms with attendants on hand to help. We went down to the details in terms of individual treatment.”
Senior director of public transportation at the Transportation Ministry Dror Ganon reported that starting next Wednesday afternoon, May 18, busses would start to run from 14 destinations across the country, including two new subsidized destinations in Beitar Illit and Modiin Illit. He added, “Last year we finished the event with 7,000 trips and upwards of 300 thousand passengers. This year we expect an increase of 15 percent. We almost reached the maximum capacity of buses in Israel! 80% of the people use public transportation to get to Meron. We take almost 1,500 buses from private companies. There will also be a lot of stations leaving the major cities, in Jerusalem itself there will be 7 stations. There are nearly 250 officials routing transport for the event.”
Officer Yossi Chemo, commander of police operations in the north, said, “We plan on deploying 5,000 police officers throughout the week in Meron. There will be 12 ambulances of Ezer M’Zion and another four of Lev Malka. There will also be volunteers of United Hatzalah and MDA. We ask the public to help them in their work and to obey their instructions.”